Durban - The emotional father of Tessa Beetge, the KwaZulu-Natal woman who has spent five and a half years in a Brazilian jail for trying to smuggle drugs out of the South American country, says he wishes her mother was alive to see their daughter being let out of prison.
In an interview with The Mercury on Tuesday, Swanee Swanepoel said his ex-wife, Marie, worked tirelessly to see her daughter freed. She died last year, reportedly from organ failure after an operation.
“I just wish her mother could be here,” said Swanepoel.
Last week, Marie’s sister, Margie Olsen, received an e-mail from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s consular services, saying Beetge had been released from prison and was awaiting “expulsion”.
Swanepoel and Marie divorced in recent years, but on Tuesday he called her his “soulmate” .
“The last five and a half years were difficult for us,” he said.
Swanepoel just wanted to hold his daughter.
“I really miss her; I just can’t wait to give her a big hug and a kiss,” he said, speaking from the Margate hardware store where he works.
Swanepoel last spoke to his daughter 18 months ago and only found out about her release on Monday, when the press contacted him.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having my family close by and to having someone to talk to.”
Swanepoel was certain Beetge, 36, had changed her ways and was in a “good place”.
“I think she must be very excited and that she’s ready to come home,” he said.
Speaking from her Eastern Cape home, Olsen said she too was sorry her sister, Marie, was no longer alive.
“Marie never gave up. This is what she lived for. Tessie was everything to her,” she said.
Olsen said Beetge was being held in police cells and she did not know how long it would be before she was sent home.
She also did not know where she would arrive, but thought it would be either Joburg or Durban.
“At this stage we have no plans for when she returns because it’s difficult to organise anything without knowing all the details,” she said.
Olsen was also not sure if Beetge wanted any sort of “welcome home party” .
“She has a lot of emotions to process and she needs to visit her mother’s grave,” she said.
Beetge’s release had not been discussed with her two teenage daughters because of the lack of details available at this stage.
Olsen said the public and the press had kept Beetge’s story alive and that Marie appreciated the people who cared and would want to say thank you.
“Marie is definitely smiling now,” she said.
Late last year, The Mercury reported that authorities were considering releasing her on parole, but Beetge and her family were concerned this would leave her with no choice but to live in the streets of Brazil.
On Tuesday, department spokesman Clayson Monyela declined to comment on Beetge’s release, saying it would go against protocol, and few details have been provided on the subject.
But Patricia Gerber, the founder of Locked Up – an NGO that advocates for the rights of South Africans in foreign prisons – said Beetge had been released unconditionally and that she could not have been released on parole.
“The overseas authorities would not be able to impose any conditions on her here, in South Africa,” she said.
Last year, Beetge was interviewed for Special Assignment, the SABC TV current affairs programme.
At the time, she said the “physical touch from a loved one” had kept her strong and that when she was released, she would “take it one day at a time”.
Beetge was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment after being caught smuggling 10kg of cocaine for Sheryl Cwele, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and Nigerian Frank Nabolisa, at Sao Paulo Airport in 2008.
Later, her sentence was reduced to eight years.
In 2011, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen found Cwele and Nabolisa guilty of dealing in cocaine, and they were each sentenced to 12 years in jail.
They appealed, and the Supreme Court of Appeal increased their sentences to 20 years each.
Nabolisa took the matter to the Constitutional Court and his original 12-year sentence was reinstated. The State applied for leave to appeal, but that was turned down.